- Historic Sites
The Siege Of Vicksburg
June 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 4
At length all was in readiness; the fuse train was fired, and it went fizzing and popping through the zigzag line of trenches until … it vanished. Its disappearance was quickly succeeded by the explosion. … So terrible a spectacle is seldom witnessed. Dust, dirt, smoke … stockades, timber, gun-carriages, logs—in fact, everything connected with the fort—rose hundreds of feet into the air, as if vomited forth from a volcano. Some who were close spectators even say that they saw the bodies of the poor wretches who a moment before had lined the ramparts of the work.
I remember one colored man … who was thrown to our side. He was not much hurt, but terribly frightened. Someone asked him how high he had gone up.
“Dunno, massa, but t’ink ‘bout t’ree mile,” was his reply.
According to Charles E. Hooker, a Confederate officer: “Six men of the Forty-third Mississippi, engaged in countermining at the time of the explosion, were buried alive.”
Immediately after the explosion, Hooker went on to explain,
a terrible outburst of cannon and musketry opened from the Federal lines, and a charging column entered the crater. But they got no farther, for the Confederates were ready and opened such a withering fire that it was instant death for one of the enemy to show his head. Not only that, but shells were lighted [at their fuses] and thrown over the parapet to explode among the Federals, causing a terrible loss of life.
Grant’s men were unable to get more than a temporary hold on the crater, and their plans to do further digging against the enemy in this area had to be abandoned. But the game oj mining and countermining was to be continued elsewhere.
The Negro who had landed in the Federal lines was taken to the headquarters of Union General John A. Logon, where he became a paid servant. To all those who questioned him about his experience he said that “somethin’ busted” and blew him out of the Confederacy “plumb into de Union.”
During the flurry of action that followed the explosion of the mine, the bombardment of the city had continued. That evening the “young lady of New Orleans” penned in her diary:
A horrible day. … We were all in the cellar when a shell came tearing through the roof, burst upstairs, tore up that room; and, the pieces coming through both floors down into the cellar, one of them tore open the leg of H.’s pantaloons. … On the heels of this came Mr. J. to tell us that young Mrs. P. had had her thighbone crushed. When Martha went for the milk, she came back horror-stricken to tell us the black girl there had her arm taken off by a shell.
For the first time I quailed. … I said to H., “You must get me out of this horrible place. I cannot stay. I know I shall be crippled.”
Now the regret comes that I lost control, because H. is worried and has lost his composure because my coolness has broken down.
Morale in Vicksburg’s defenses was also failing, but for a different reason. Confederate officer Charles Hooker wrote:
On the 28th Pemberton received a communication signed “Many soldiers,” containing these words: “Our rations have been cut down to one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day, not enough scarcely to keep soul and body together, much less to stand the hardships we are called upon to stand. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is. … This army is now ripe to mutiny unless it can be fed.”
The Federal newspapermen were now calling the capture of Vicksburg “a foregone conclusion.” Charles H. Farrell reported to the New York Herald:
A few days ago a rebel mail was captured coming out from Vicksburg, in which were letters from prominent men in the rebel army who state that they cannot hold out much longer. … So far as the siege of this place goes, I presume the people at home, in their easy chairs, think it ought to have been finished long since. To such let me say, could they be present here … and see the configuration of the country, its broken topography, its high and abrupt hills, deep gullies, gorges, and dilapidated roads, they would then realize the difficulties of the work. Then there is a large army to feed, great matériel to be brought into position, all of which demands large transportation and the united efforts of thousands of men.
General Grant acts independently of opinions of the public. He fully realizes the responsibility of his position and … he is determined to accomplish his work with as great an economy of human life as possible. He feels now that the prize is within his grasp. …
The Vicksburg Daily Citizen, by this time being printed on wallpaper, reported on July 2:
The great Ulysses—the Yankee generalissimo surnamed Grant—has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on … the Fourth of July. … Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook a rabbit is “first catch the rabbit.”
In another passage the newspaper vouched for the palatability of mule steak and stewed cat.